Brian Eno once said that while hardly anyone bought Velvet Underground albums, all those that did started rock bands. Hardly anyone starts their own record label, either, but those who do gain valuable experience in the music industry. Green Street Records, which is proudly the only student-run record label in the Big Ten (and one of the few in the world) was born in an instant when students Jason Drucker and Joshua Morton had the idea to start a free, student-run record label.
Other area labels, like Polyvinyl and Parasol, don’t promote student musicians, nor do they focus on local bands and listeners. Even these largely ‘independent’ labels are still driven by profit. GSR, however, is solely motivated by a passion for local music and students. “In an age where corporations are so geared towards uniform music ‘product,’ we are solely motivated by a passion for local music and students,” says Aaron Rosenthal, president of A&R. As a not-for-profit organization (and Registered Student Organization), GSR is funded by the University of Illinois and corporate sponsors. Brittany Cadwalader, a freshman in business, and marketing staff for GSR, says that one of the biggest challenges is “approaching sponsors, convincing them that your effort is genuine.” The funding allows the label to sign student artists, and produce a compilation CD of the artists. The results will be released to the University’s students gratis. “Our goal is solely to promote local music made by students, while gaining experience ourselves,” says Rosenthal. “When I graduate I’ll leave GSR behind to the University, but my intention is to start a commercial label.” Most of the staff have ambitions to join the music industry, and as the University doesn’t offer a music business program, GSR gives students valuable experience throughout the entire business cycle. “We begin the year by looking for bands, eventually deciding on our group, recording the album throughout the winter, then spend the rest of the year promoting the groups we’ve chosen.”
GSR takes pride in their student-oriented approach. Bands are required to contain University students, and the group is not overseen by any adults. The label doesn’t produce full-length albums yet (though that is a plan for the future), but Rosenthal insists that they “stand behind (our) bands the same way any label would” by promoting the artists through gigs and radio play. Local radio stations WPGU’s Inner Limits (both Buzz and WPGU are operated by Illini Media Company) and WEFT’s Champaign Local have featured bands on Green Street Records, and The Ending, a band on the label, has been approached by a major label. Shows held by the label have filled venues around town. “Bands normally need a track record to get a show, and without shows, they have little chance. We try to even the playing field, and eliminate that vicious circle,” Rosenthal says.
One group that’s thankful for GSR’s efforts is Sincerely Calvin, a local rock band signed to GSR, currently working on their first LP. “Green Street has the same sort of enthusiasm for the business aspect of music that I try to put into my own music,” says guitarist Chris Pilate. “They provide an excited third party to our creative process and the compilation provides a goal for us to strive for. Most of all, they promote the hell out of the local music scene.”
One of GSR’s greater accomplishments has been exposing students to music they would normally miss. There are two separate music cultures in town, one based in downtown Champaign, and one more oriented toward campus. By bringing bands that normally play downtown to campus, GSR has been able to excite students with music outside their normal experience. All genres are given a chance as well, from live hip hop to hard rock. An excellent example is Triple Whip, whose kooky, bass-oriented jams, though alien to many, were surprisingly successful with students when they were given the chance to show off on campus.
Bands applying for Green Street Records needn’t worry about the quality of their demo: talent is what the label is listening for, and bands selected for the compilation CD get to spend eight hours (the same amount of time professional artists often spend per track) in a professional studio (Champaign’s own Pogo Studio) and work with producer Mark Rubel (also an instructor at Parkland College), whose production credits include Poster Children and Hum. “Though we don’t produce the tracks ourselves, in the studio, Mark goes through every aspect of recording for us while we observe. It’s an educational experience,” says Josh Morton, president of PR.
“Our intent isn’t to reach a certain point, but rather to always be bigger,” says Rosenthal. “Last year, we released 1,500 CDs, this year it’s 2,500. Last year, the release party was at the Union Courtyard Cafe, this year, it’ll hopefully be at The Canopy Club, which seats twice as many.” With their support and determination, Green Street Records should have no problems continuing to break down boundaries.
Green Street Records is currently accepting demos until Nov. 19. Bands signed will appear on this year’s compilation album, and will receive promotion and studio time. Sincerely Calvin is headlining a show of GSR bands at Nargile on Nov. 5. Also on the bill are Bullet Called Life, Blame Twilight and Drop The One. Lastly, the label has a fund-raising dodge ball tournament 11 a.m. on Nov. 13 at Kenney Gym. Admission is $45 per six- to 10- person team. Their second compilation CD is to be released in April 2005.

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